A scientist’s view of the term “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response”

Jennifer Allen coined the term “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” in 2010.  Prior to this the head tingles that most people now call ASMR went by a variety of terms including brain orgasm, attention-induced head orgasm, attention-induced euphoria, that unnamed feeling, and of course, head tingles.

Is ASMR a better term than these prior terms?  Is ASMR the best term possible?  Could a better term be coined to describe this sensation?

I won’t hold my judgement until the end of this post.  I will tell you right now.

I think ASMR is a terrific term and I fully support this term as the final “scientific” term to describe the tingly head sensation.  I truly think Jennifer Allen did a great job coming up with this term.

I will now go through each word of ASMR and share my reasons for supporting the full term.

Let’s start with the easiest one, “response.”

“Response” is a scientific term which describes how your body reacts to a stimulus or a thought.  And everyone that experiences ASMR agrees that they are having a response, and tend to describe that response in similar ways.

Let’s move on to the next easy one, “sensory.”

“Sensory” is also a scientific term used to describe the type of nerves that bring information to your brain.  Sensory nerves bring information like light, sound, touch, taste, smell, balance, temperature, and more to your brain.  The experience of ASMR is usually a result of your sensory nerves being activated by someone touching you, talking to you, you hearing something, or you watching something.  All these actions result in sensory signals going to your brain.  Some individuals can experience ASMR by just thinking about something, that would be one way that ASMR can be experienced without any direct and obvious sensory stimuli.

So although everyone that experiences ASMR has a similar “response”, there is a large variety of the types of stimuli that trigger “sensory” signals in people – and some people can experience ASMR without any sensory signals.

Now for, “autonomous.”

“Autonomous” is most commonly used to describe the behavior of an individual or governing body as independent or self-governing.  I believe Jennifer Allen selected this term because of this common meaning.  She saw the large variety of stimuli that trigger ASMR as it being “individualistic”, in the same way that we all enjoy food but we each have our individual preferences.  She also selected this term for the “self-governing” meaning because it describes those individuals whom do not need any external stimuli to experience ASMR, their experience is “self-governing.”

Although autonomous is not widely used to describe biological pathways, there is a very similar word used in biology that has the same meaning because they share the same word origins.  “Autonomic” is a term that describes nerve pathways that leave the brain and regulate the activity of your organs.  Autonomic also means independent and self-governing because these biological processes work without you needing to think about them.  When you want to pick up a pencil, that is not an autonomic signal because you have to think about it to make it happen.  But when your heart rate speeds up or slows down that is considered autonomic because you do not need to think about it.

In time, I think research will show that there are some autonomic responses with ASMR.  When people experience ASMR they probably have a lot of classic autonomic responses like decreased breathing rate, decreased heart rate, and increased digestive system activity.  So the “autonomous” term in ASMR is an excellent descriptor for the variety of triggers, the ability of individuals to experience ASMR without any triggers, and the autonomic responses that occur in the body during ASMR.

And finally, the term, “meridian.”

My understanding is that Jennifer Allen selected this term as a replacement for the word “orgasm”, which was being commonly associated with the sensation.  The word “orgasm” is not an accurate description for the feeling, mostly because it is not a sexual feeling.  Using the word “orgasm” can lead to a lot of misunderstandings about ASMR.  So Jennifer Allen wisely selected the term “meridian” to use instead of “orgasm”.

She has shared that she chose the term meridian because it meant a period of high prosperity or success.  It may be serendipity that meridian has other meanings that seem to also fit well with ASMR.

Another meaning of meridian is as a term from traditional Chinese medicine to describe the pathways of life-energy flow.  Many people who experience ASMR would probably agree that they feel like some kind of tingly electric feeling is flowing throughout their body.

Another meaning of meridian is a line that runs between the North Pole and the South Pole.

If you combine together some of these meanings of meridian, you sorta have a very good description of the central nervous system, which carries electrical signals between the tops of our heads and the bottoms of our spinal cords.  And the tingles from ASMR are probably mediated by neurotransmitters initiating impulses along our central nervous system.

I believe that Jennifer Allen also had a broader and important reason for coining the term “ASMR.”  ASMR is a term that is more likely to be taken seriously and receive the attention of researchers and funding agencies, than terms like head orgasms and brain tingles.

So for all those reasons, I fully support Jennifer Allen’s term, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

Click HERE to read more about the autonomic nervous system.

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This post brought to you by the ASMR University.  A site with the mission of increasing the awareness, understanding, and research of the Art and Science of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

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